Ultimate Umm…mami! At Vermilion, Business Decor, Indo-Latin Savory Meld

World Bank Beauty’s Masterful Integration of India, Brazil and Beyond

Citadel of Fusion Achieves Peak of Savory Nourishment

Destination For Spicy Meat Mavens, Though May Need Patience

Ex World Bank Economist Rohini Dey meets the challenge of organizing two restaurants in two different cities - Chicago and New York - to offer something uniquely different

Ex World Bank Economist Rohini Dey meets the challenge of organizing two restaurants in two different cities – Chicago and New York – to offer something uniquely different

You can be sure that unusually interesting taste sensations will arrive on your plate from the kitchen of At Vermilion, whose tall ceilings and open interior space can be seen lighting up the corner of Lexington at 46 Street.

The combination of Indian and Latin American influences is the imaginative idea of a restaurateur from an unlikely background. Rohini Dey is a tall and slender, soft faced Indian beauty who likes to dress in Oscar length gowns when she visits from Chicago to oversee this, her second restaurant. In another life, she was a McKinsey consultant who moved to the World Bank and married an economist. Then, in a sharp break from her comfortable office bound existence, she found her bliss.

Dey left the abstract paperwork and regular paycheck of high level economics far behind to take on one of the most demanding entrepreneurial roles in the US. Nowadays she is running At Vermilion, her high level restaurant in the Big Apple, as well as the original Vermilion she founded earlier in Chicago.

Not surprisingly given the high level jobs Rohini left for her passion, the decor at At Vermilion is well arranged business modern softened with comfortable shapes and lighting and spacious enough for relaxed dining and for parties and functions

With passion as fuel

Running a restaurant is a highly demanding feat well known for its flow chart tangles and insoluble personnel problems, magnified in New York City by incessant bureaucratic demands, zooming rents, and extreme competition, with 23,705 permits for bars, cafes and restaurants in July, a jump from 18,606 back in 2008.

But this is what Rohini without hesitation calls her “passion”, one she has pursued for ten years. She opened her first Vermilion in Chicago, and then launched its New York sister in 2008, just in time for the economic collapse.

Armed with a bunch of plaudits from major media she kept At Vermilion going through the downturn and recently decided to add impetus with a relaunch. On Wednesday the press were invited to come and taste the result.

Having a strong liking for the spicy side of food we made sure to attend, with the results as far as we are concerned quite remarkable.

How to transform the mundane into a peak of fusion: Vermilion’s menu offers a range of choices almost impossible to choose at one sitting, given the novelty of its attractions and the inspired compatibility of its combinations

The second half of the menu reveals one of the few possible flaws in an otherwise appetizing lineup, and that is not a complaint about the quality or taste of the offerings.  But given the likelihood that diners will feast on a substantial main course following a quite filling starter, the heavy style of the desserts that lean towards the Indian side of the Vermilion fusion may need relief with a few more of the lighter touches such as the mango flan and the coconut mouse (sic)

The second half of the menu reveals one of the few possible flaws in an otherwise appetizing lineup, and that is not a complaint about the quality or taste of the offerings. But given the likelihood that diners will feast on a substantial main course following a quite filling starter, the heavy style of the desserts that lean towards the Indian side of the Vermilion fusion may need relief with a few more of the lighter touches such as the mango flan and the coconut “mouse” (sic)

It is hard to think of any among the 16,000 full service eateries in New York that we would return to with more eagerness to sample more of the menu items that we missed, a list we tried for two hours to make as short as possible.

Meat eaters paradise
As a guilty carnivore our choices were heavy on the meat eating side which is especially well served with imaginative spice and sauce combinations, an approach which benefits from the fact that with meat you can go all out with such additions without fear of overdoing it. We tasted enough to be sure that on the fish side the same excitement will be found.

A cast iron soup bowl and wooden platters enhance the earthbound tastiness of many offerings on the menu, min this case the cauliflower soup panchporan bengali five spice cream blend (slightly pinker in reality)

One Rohini inspiration is to serve up morsels such as ribs or strip steaks or soups on cast iron platters bedded with wooden palettes, which add a welcome iron and wooden touch of earthiness to frame the dark results of barbecued or grilled meat.

Mysore lamb chops, with pickled onion and mango mint chutney are dark and succulent, blacked but not burnt, lightly minted, tender rare and with no greasy feel whatsoever

But it is the impact of actually taking the morsel you cut off into the mouth which will start fireworks in your neurological system.
Tastings of two restaurant week menu items - bottom right, grilled beef anticucho peruvian street, garlic cumin tones; bottom left, pani puri street Indian chaat, flour shells, potato, chili mint water; and latin indian petiscos: bottom right, alcapurria puerto rican croquette, chicken kabab, chipotle mango;  top left, tamarind pork bun bifanas, portuguese classic, tamarind pork dip (bacony, very tasty)

Tastings of two restaurant week menu items – bottom right, grilled beef anticucho peruvian street, garlic cumin tones; bottom left, pani puri street Indian chaat, flour shells, potato, chili mint water; and latin indian petiscos: bottom right, alcapurria puerto rican croquette, chicken kabab, chipotle mango; top left, tamarind pork bun bifanas, portuguese classic, tamarind pork dip (bacony, very tasty)

We’re talking of not only the taste of the saucy spices added but the way in which they enhance the power packed protein hit of the meat. The savory flavors add a dimension of suffused heart warming nourishment which ordinary Indian tandoori baked chicken, for example, just doesn’t possess.

On the left, tandoori skirt steak, seared churrasco, indian marinade, plantain chips, chorizo kale, jicarna roll, raita, on the right, blackened tamarind ribs indian-latin chili-tamarind glaze, with quinoa salad and tapioca crisps (dry when we got it, but quickly remedied)

The dishes offer a double punch of flavor enhancement and boosted nourishment which add up to meat eaters nirvana. Of course, then there is the problem of choosing wine – solved quite easily by selecting one of the two red wines offered by the glass.

A nice range of signature herb and spice cocktails are on the drinks menu, such as Fresh line pear with green chili vodka, or pani puri margarita tequila

or a good red Chilean?

or a good red Chilean?

Red wine is no problem at Vermilion with two easy choices in wine by the glass – the slightly sharper but soon blossoming Araucano, Carmenere Valle De Colchagua from Chile, or the mellower but equally rounded Tilia Malbec Mendoza Argentina.

See her on Restaurant Confidential soon

As it happened there was also a Restaurant Confidential crew from CBS shooting an upcoming episode featuring Rohini and her performance art. They recognize that this worldly Indian beauty is juggling as many roles as a writer and producer for the stage.

A CBS crew tries to listen in on Rohini Dey’s management and culinary secrets as she briefs her barman, possibly on which of the excellent red wines to serve as a fine complement to her unique dishes

For Dey writes her own script and gathers a cast and crew to stage a production she designs in its entirety – the physical space and decor, the cooks and other cast, the raw materials, and in consultation with the accomplished chefs, the finished menu. The result of her stagecraft deserves to be an explosive hit, according to our taste.

Bottom line we’d say that At Vermilion should be a first choice for all adventurous foodies in search of a savory spice haven – or should we say heaven? – amid comfortable and spacious modern decor. If they read Yelp, however, they should bear in mind that Rohini has rebooted the service side after a long list of indignant reviews there over the past few years, and that it should be vastly improved under the hand of her current manager, the impressive Varcian Virgo, whose Jamaican heritage may have made him amiable in humor but whose disciplined bearing suggests he has everything entirely under control (not to mention that the wild swings from good to bad at Yelp suggest that some reviews are the work of rivals).

Varcian Virgo is the general manager whose good humor may have roots in his Jamaican background but whose straight backed bearing reflects the discipline with which he approaches his role

.

If the wholesale staff upgrade proves out, and service for the anonymous guests matches the quality, interest and prices of the food and wine, the reincarnation of At Vermilion deserves to be as full of enthusiasts for its taste sensations as its menu is packed with variations on the Indo-Latin theme.

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